10 Tips for Financial Success

8a8_9449-x2-x100

Jane M. Young CFP, EA

1. Set Goals –
Review your personal values, develop a personal strategic plan, establish specific goals for the next three years and identify action steps for the coming year.

2. Understand Your Current Situation –
Review your actual expenses over the last year and develop a budget or a cash flow plan for the next 12 months. Compare your expenses and your income to better understand your cash flow situation. Are you’re spending habits aligned with your goals? Can or should you be saving more?

3. Have sufficient Liquidity –
Maintain an emergency fund equal to at least four months of expenses in a fully liquid account. Additionally, I recommend having a secondary emergency fund equal to another three months of expenses in semi-liquid investments. Increase your liquidity if you have above average volatility in your life due to job instability, rental properties or other risk factors.

4. Always save at least 10% of your income –
Regardless of whether you are saving to fund your emergency fund or retirement you should always pay yourself first by saving at least 10% of your income. Most of us need to be saving closer to 15% to meet our retirement needs.

5. Pay-off Credit Cards and Consumer Debt –
Learn the difference between bad debt (credit cards) and good debt (fixed-rate home mortgage). Avoid the bad debt and take advantage of the leveraging power of good debt.

6. Take Advantage of the Leveraging Power of Owning Your Home –
Once you have established an emergency fund and have paid off your bad debt start saving for a down payment to purchase your own home.

7. Fully Fund Your Retirement Accounts be a tax smart investor –
Participate in tax advantaged retirement programs for which you qualify. Maximize your Roth IRA and 401k contribution take full advantage of any company match on your 401k. If you are self-employed consider a SEP or Simple plan. Always select investment vehicles that provide the most beneficial tax solution while meeting your investment objectives.

8. Be an Investor, Not a Trader. Don’t time the market and don’t let emotions drive your investment decisions –
Investing in the stock market is a long term endeavor, forecasting the short-term movement of the stock market is fruitless. Avoid emotional reactions to headlines and short-term events. Don’t overreact to sensationalistic journalists or chase the latest investment trends. You can establish a defensive position by maintaining a well diversified portfolio custom tailored to your unique situation. Slow and steady wins the race!
“Far more money has been lost by investors in preparing for corrections, or anticipating corrections, than has been lost in the corrections themselves.”  -Peter Lynch, author and former mutual fund manager with Fidelity Investments

9. Don’t Invest in anything you don’t understand and be aware of high fees and penalties –
If it sounds too good to be true and you just can’t get your head around it, don’t invest in it! If you want to invest in complicated products, read the fine print. Be aware of commissions, fees and surrender charges. Be especially wary of products with a contingent deferred sales charge. There is no free lunch, if you are being promised above market returns there is probably a catch. Keep in mind that contracts are written to protect the insurance or investment company not the investor.

10. Diversify, Diversify, Diversify – rebalance annually –
It is impossible to predict fluctuations in the market or to select the next great stock. However, you can hedge your bets by maintaining a well diversified portfolio. Establish an asset allocation that is aligned with your goals, investment timeframe and risk tolerance. You should have a good mix of fixed income and equity based investments. Your equity investments should be spread over a wide variety of large, small, domestic and international companies and industries. Re-balance your portfolio on an annual basis to stay diversified and weed out any underperforming investments.

Almost Whole

8a8_9449-x2-x100

Jane M. Young

I am continually surprised by questions from financial reporters who are still asking how my clients are faring after losing half of their retirement savings or by individual investors who are still fretting over losing half of their nest egg. If you followed our advice, as about 95% of our clients did, to stay the course and avoid selling during the drop in the market you would be close to break even now. If your risk tolerance precluded you from staying in the market, you may have realized a greater loss. This is a good reminder that we need to avoid acting on emotional reactions to the stock market. The stock market is cyclical and you can’t recover from a loss if you aren’t in the market. The stock market is counter intuitive – generally, the best time to buy is when you feel like selling and the best time to sell is when you feel like buying.

Here are some figures that will illustrate the actual change in the market over the last three or four years. The S&P 500 hit an all time high of around 1561 in October of 2007 and dropped about 56% to around 683 by March of 2009. Since March of 2009 the market increased by about 88% to 1286 on January 31, 2011. While it hasn’t reached the peak of 1561 it has returned to the 1200-1300 level where the market hovered throughout the summer of 2008 – before the significant drop in September 2008. The NASDAQ hit an all time high of around 2810 in October of 2007 and dropped about 54% to around 1293 by March of 2009. Since March of 2009 the NASDAQ has increased by about 109% to 2706 on January 31, 2011.

To Convert or Not Convert – Looking Beyond the Roth IRA Conversion Calculator

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

As I mentioned in the previous article on Roth IRAs, with a Roth IRA you pay income tax now and not upon distribution. With a traditional IRA you defer taxes today and pay income taxes upon deferral. When you convert a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA you must pay regular income taxes on the amount that is converted. The advisability of converting to a Roth depends on the length of time you have until you take distributions, your tax rate today and your anticipated tax rate upon retirement and your projected return on your investments.

When you run your numbers through one of the numerous calculators available on the internet you may or may not see a big savings in doing a Roth Conversion. However, there are several other factors that may tilt the scale toward converting some of your money to a Roth.

• Income tax rates are currently very low and there is a general consensus that they will increase considerably by the time you start taking distributions. With a Roth conversion you pay the tax now at the lower rates and take tax free distributions when the tax rates are higher.

• The stock market is still down about 25% from where it was in August of 2008. There is a lot of cash sitting on the sidelines waiting to be invested once consumer confidence is restored. You can pay taxes on money in your traditional IRA while the share prices are low and take a tax free distribution from your Roth down the road when the market has rebounded.

• You may have a sizable portion of your portfolio in tax deferred retirement accounts on which you will have to take required minimum distributions (RMD). This could put you into a much higher tax bracket. By converting some of your traditional IRA into a Roth you can get some tax diversification on your portfolio. This will lower your RMD– because there is no RMD on a Roth IRA. Diversifying your portfolio between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA enables you to take your distributions from the most appropriate pot of money in any given year.

For more information on Roth IRAs and the new tax laws for 2010 please review the articles previously posted under Roth IRAs.

1 6 7 8